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14 year old starts charity in memory of his late father

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From left, Alli, Jacob and Ben Grosberg.

In October, Torontonian Jacob Grosberg, 14, decided to start a charity fund, in honour of his late father, Ben Grosberg. The month before, Ben Grosberg died by his own hand, after a five-month struggle with depression. Despite their best efforts, the family had been unable to find sufficient help for him.

At one point, Ben Grosberg tried to check himself into a hospital to get help, but would have had to wait three days in the ER for a bed to become available. That story is one example of the many ways the mental health care system failed Ben Grosberg, and part of his son’s reason for creating the charity.

“There’s been so many deaths because of someone taking their own life and I need to lower that number and give people the support that they need, or the funding to give them that support,” Jacob Grosberg said.

To that end, he created mentalhealthhub.ca and conanfund.org. The two sites work in tandem to help people like Ben Grosberg who are struggling with mental illness. The Mental Health Hub provides access to crisis resources for those in need. The Conan Fund is the money-raising arm of the charity, which has brought in over $9,000 as of this writing. It’s named after Ben Grosberg, who earned the moniker “Conan” in high school for his strength and popularity.

Jacob Grosberg was also inspired by the way his father lived, even towards the end of his life.

“He wanted to do the exact same thing I’m doing, he wanted to talk about his story and talk about how he fought his depression. So I’m doing that for him now,” he said, recalling a phone call he shared with his father two weeks before his death. “That was a great memory because it made me so proud of him, because he was fighting through it. So now I’m taking over for him.”

Jacob Grosberg wanted to donate the money he raised to a charity that would be able to directly assist people like his father. In what he describes as almost a spiritual moment, he and his mother discovered the Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences, while doing research on mental health charities one night, in order to find a place to donate the money he’d raised.

Ontario Shores had two programs that seemed like the kind of practical, helpful initiatives they were looking for: the Prompt Care Clinic and Recovery College. The clinic provides timely care for people who don’t have time to wait for help and the college teaches people struggling with mental illness about different ways to manage their mental health.

On Jan. 19, Jacob Grosberg went to Ontario Shores to present the organization a cheque for $7,000. The money will help fund the clinic and college.

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Alli Grosberg, Ben’s wife and Jacob’s mother, lost her mother to cancer when she was 16. She wishes she could have protected her son from the pain of losing a parent at a young age. Even so, she is proud of the way her son has responded to tragedy.

“Seeing him be so inspired by his loss in a way that will help make change in our society, it makes me think, ‘OK, he’ll survive this,’ ” she said.

Alli and Ben Grosberg were high school sweethearts who were together for 28 years. She said that her husband, a registered massage therapist who ran a massage college in Toronto, was known for being everybody’s friend, as well as for his bear hugs and his big heart.

The way her son has responded to the loss of his father further cements what she already knew about both of them.

“He was fantastic father. He left my son with a lot of good character traits. He was a good example in life for my son,” she said.